In the past week or so, there have been sightings of some Tesla vehicles with imaging equipment on the roof in California. Local people spotted a Model Y running in San Francisco with such equipment on its roof. There was also a Model X equipped with LiDAR sensors in the Los Altos area last week. There are speculations that these are training vehicles collecting data for the Full Self-Driving (FSD) suite.
Numerous Tesla Models Spotted With LiDAR Sensors and Imaging Equipment In California
Tesla’s Stand on LiDAR
There are contradictory theories about the kind of technology that can be used in self-driving cars. Some companies (Waymo, Ford, Uber, GM) say that LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) sensors are a must for object detection. Tesla, on the other hand, feels that LiDAR is an unnecessary piece of equipment. In fact, Elon Musk has been extremely vocal about his stand on LiDAR.
Lidar is a fool’s errand. Anyone relying on lidar is doomed. Doomed! [They are] expensive sensors that are unnecessary. It’s like having a whole bunch of expensive appendices. Like, one appendix is bad, well now you have a whole bunch of them, it’s ridiculous, you’ll see.
Instead of using LiDAR technology, Tesla has a set of 8 cameras on its cars, along with a radar, which is constantly connected to an advanced neural network. This technology can detect vehicles and pedestrians on the road, and some other objects such as trees, but it cannot always see the true shape or depth of the objects. This may hamper the car when it comes to distinguishing between a box truck and a semi, for example, according to experts.
A sophisticated piece of equipment was equipped on the Model Y spotted in San Francisco. The vehicle contained manufacturer plates and featured imaging equipment on its roof. LiDAR sensors are seen as part of this equipment. Several sightings of the car were reported. The Kilowatts group on Twitter spotted the vehicle training at night.
— The Kilowatts ?⚡️ (@klwtts) December 29, 2020
Locals also spotted an identical model earlier in the day and at a Daly City Supercharger last week. It is unknown yet as to what this vehicle was being driven around for. But speculations are high that Tesla is using this imaging equipment to validate data received from the FSD beta testing. The Model Y’s equipment also contained a number of Luminar Hydra LiDAR units.
Funky looking Model Y with imaging equipment mounted atop pic.twitter.com/z2iqFkUVIE
— You You Xue (@youyouxue) December 28, 2020
As noted by Luminar on its official website, the Hydra is specifically designed for testing and development programs. There is also a theory that these training vehicles are carrying out ground-truthing, which is an important step of development and roll-out of the FSD.
A week ago, a Model X was also spotted with similar equipment on its roof. Similarly, in July this year, a Model S with a similar sensor suite and manufacturer plates was sighted driving around Palo Alto. This car also Luminar Hydra LiDAR units, on top of some extra cameras that were installed around the vehicle. This further strengthens the theory that Tesla is running these training vehicles for an upcoming FSD release.
A Twitter user found a patent in September, which could explain these Tesla sightings. It says “In various embodiments, a machine learning model trained using auxiliary sensor data can accurately predict the result of an auxiliary sensor without the need for the physical auxiliary sensor. For example, training vehicles can be equipped with auxiliary sensors for collecting training data. A machine learning model can be trained using this data for predicting the result of an auxiliary sensor, such as radar, LiDAR, or another sensor.
Thus, even though Elon Musk has opposed the use of LiDAR in his vehicles, it does not mean he opposes its utility. Tesla might be using these sensors for strengthening the model they have prepared using the data from the beta release. In any case, it is clear that there is a bit of work to be done on the FSD suite before it can be launched for the public.